21. Mar, 2019

Bishop Schneider discusses how the Church should handle a heretical pope


ROME, March 20, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Unprecedented times call for unprecedented discussions, and unprecedented discussions require courageous souls. 

Many Catholics regard Bishop Athanasius Schneider as one of these souls. 

In his latest statement published on March 20, he has taken up questions that more and more people are asking throughout the world: can the Roman Pontiff hold heretical doctrines? If so, what does the doctrine of papal infallibility teach? How should the Catholic world — cardinals, bishops, clergy, and laity — respond to such a situation? 

Questions like these formerly were debated among medieval theologians, especially in light of the Great Western Schism, which saw as many as three separate claimants to the papal throne. Papal abdications as well as concerns of “conciliarism” — the doctrine which places ecumenical Church Councils above papal prerogatives — led to further analysis, as seen, for example in John R. Eastman’s scholarly work, Papal Abdication in Later Medieval Thought (1990) and Francis Oakley’s, The Conciliarist Tradition (2003). 

Protestant revolts initiated still more discussion among Catholic scholars, with St. Robert Bellarmine and John of St. Thomas representing different positions.

In our time, many perplexed and concerned Catholics are once again reviving these discussions, a great number of whom have asked for Bishop Schneider’s intervention. Concerned for their welfare and for the good of the Catholic Church, he has now broken the silence to address these weighty and even epoch-making matters. Here is what he teaches in his essay, “On the question of a heretical pope.”

Bishop Schneider begins by noting that the Church has never pronounced magisterially on what should be done if a pope should seem to teach heresy, or whether a pope may lose his office on account of heresy. Rarely, if ever, has a bishop come forward with a position on these matters. But the questions have not gone away. Therefore, he responds by providing a theological and historical perspective on the issues. 

The case of Pope Honorius I (625 - 638) illustrates the Church’s theology and practice regarding a heretical pope. For Honorius supported the heretical doctrine of those who promoted Monotheletism—the heresy that denied Christ had a full human will. After Honorius’s death, three separate Ecumenical Councils anathematized Honorius; and Pope Saint Leo II likewise condemned his predecessor as having “permitted the immaculate faith to be stained by a profane treason.”

Significantly, after the Ecumenical Councils condemned Pope Honorius, they sent their documents to Pope Agatho, asking him to approve their conciliar decisions. Included in their request was a firm declaration that Rome possesses an indefectible Faith, which is authoritatively promulgated to the whole Church by the bishops of the Apostolic See, the successors of Peter. While approving the condemnation of Honorius, Pope Agatho simultaneously retained a supernatural view of the inerrancy of the See of Peter in teaching the Faith, writing:  

This is the rule of the true faith, which this spiritual mother of your most tranquil empire, the Apostolic Church of Christ (the See of Rome), has both in prosperity and in adversity always held and defended with energy; which, it will be proved, by the grace of Almighty God, has never erred from the path of the apostolic tradition, nor has she been depraved by yielding to heretical innovations, but from the beginning she has received the Christian faith from her founders, the princes of the Apostles of Christ, and remains undefiled unto the end, according to the divine promise of the Lord and Savior himself.

The condemnation of Pope Honorius as a heretic was memorialized in later centuries, including oaths sworn by popes upon taking office, and in certain readings in the Divine Office—prayed throughout the Church until the 18thcentury.  

The case of Pope John XXII (1316 - 1334) is also relevant for a consideration of papal heresy, for he erroneously taught—and vigorously defended—the false idea that the Saints would enjoy the beatific vision only after the Last Judgment in the Second Coming of Christ. Although many clergy, including Franciscan friars, spread this doctrine, Dominicans publicly admonished the Pope, along with the entire University of Paris with the backing of King Philip VI of France. In face of the unrelenting Pope, theologians published refutations of the wrong Papal theories, and Cardinal Jacques Fournier fraternally corrected the Pope. Fournier eventually became his successor as Pope Benedict XII (1334 - 1342). Before he died, Pope John XXII retracted his errors.

Schneider draws a number of lessons from the heresy and subsequent denunciation of Pope Honorius and Pope John XXII. 

First, he notes it is a dogma of faith that the pope cannot proclaim a heresy when teaching ex cathedra. This is the Divine guarantee that the gates of hell will not prevail against the cathedra veritatis, which is the Apostolic See of the Apostle Saint Peter. 

Second, he argues that a pope may be fallible and a heretic precisely in not authoritatively upholding and teaching the Petrine tradition of the Roman Church. After his death, an Ecumenical Council and subsequent popes may licitly condemn a previous pope for supporting heresy. During a pope’s lifetime, his erroneous theories may be opposed and refuted; and a bishop may publicly correct a pope for such theories.

Third, he observes that the faithful and the hierarchy of the Church can clearly distinguish between the indestructibility of the Catholic Faith divinely guaranteed to the Magisterium of the See of Peter and the infidelity and treason of a concrete pope in the exercise of his teaching office. Even if a pope is spreading theological errors and heresies, the Faith of the Church as a whole will remain intact because of the promise of Christ concerning the special assistance and permanent presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the truth, in His Church (cf. John 14: 17; 1 John 2: 27).

Fourth, he notes that it was not considered scandalous by many generations of Catholics, that a particular pope, and in a very rare case, was found guilty of heresy or of supporting heresy. The words of Pope Honorius I were harmless against the fact of the inerrancy in Faith of the Apostolic See. They were reduced to their true value, as the expression of his own personal view.

In light of these truths, Schneider rejects the theory or theological opinion that a heretical pope can be deposed or lose office, even though this theory was taught by Sts. Francis de Sales and Robert Bellarmine. In Schneider’s view, this opinion implicitly makes the pope identical with the entire Church or manifests the unhealthy attitude of a pope-centrism, of papolatria ultimately. 

As practical measures, Bishop Schneider suggests the following: 

  • A pope cannot be deposed in whatsoever form and for whatever reason, not even for the reason of heresy.
  • Every newly elected pope on entering upon his office is obliged in virtue of his ministry as the supreme teacher of the Church to take the oath of protecting the entire flock of Christ from the dangers of heresies and to avoid in his words and deeds any appearance of heresy in compliance with his duty of strengthening in faith all the Shepherds and the faithful. 
  • A pope who is spreading obvious theological errors or heresies or helping in the spread of heresies by his actions and omissions should be obligatorily corrected in a fraternal and private form by the Dean of the College of Cardinals.
  • After unsuccessful private corrections, the Dean of the College of Cardinals is obliged to make his correction public.
  • Together with the public correction, the Dean of the College of Cardinals must make an appeal for prayer for the pope that he may regain the strength to confirm unambiguously the entire Church in the Faith.
  • At the same time the Dean of the College of Cardinals should publish a formula of a Profession of Faith, in which there would be rejected the theological errors that the pope teaches or tolerates (without necessarily naming the pope).
  • If the Dean of the College of Cardinals should omit or fail to make the correction, the appeal to prayer, and the publication of a Profession of Faith, any cardinal, bishop or a group of bishops should do this and, if even the cardinals and bishops omit or fail to do this, any member of the Catholic faithful or any group of Catholic faithful should do this.
  • The Dean of the College of Cardinals or a cardinal, or a bishop or a group of bishops, or a faithful Catholic or a group of Catholic faithful who made the correction, appeal to prayer, and the publication of the Profession of Faith cannot be subjected to any canonical sanctions or penalties or accused of disrespect towards the pope for this reason.

In light of the revolutionary changes promoted by Pope Francis — including his approval of communion for sexually active adulterers (who are cohabitating in so-called “irregular unions”), his written statement at Abu Dhabi that the diversity of religions is willed by God, and his change of the catechism on the legitimacy of the death penalty — Schneider argues that the Church must enact the above measures while enduring whatever suffering comes from holding to the faith in the Divine character and in the indestructibility of the Church and of the Petrine office.


Here below is the full text of Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s essay “on the question of a heretical pope.” Continue https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/bishop-schneider-on-how-to-handle-a-heretical-pope